I wouldn’t recommend visiting Egypt in the current state of the world, but if you happen to find yourself in the Egyptian capital, then one place you cannot miss is Khan El-Khalili – a bizarre bazaar if I ever saw one!
The site of Khan El-Khalili was located at the middle of Cairo’s most important zone of economic activity, and later sultans also built commercial establishments nearby. This economic and commercial zone ran along the city’s main north-south axis (now known as al-Mu’izz street), and was also the privileged site of many monumental religious complexes built throughout the Mamluk period and beyond. By the late 15th century, the district around Khan el-Khalili had also become the major center of foreign trade, which included the sale of slaves and precious stone
Khan el-Khalili today is mainly occupied by Egyptian rather than foreign merchants and shopholders, but is significantly geared towards tourists. Shops typically sell souvenirs, antiques and jewellery, but many traditional workshops continue to operate in the surrounding area – the goldsmiths’ souq, for example, is still important for locals.
It often felt like I was in bygone times as I traipsed my way through the bazaar, and sometimes like being a highly detailed theme park. It was quite unlike any other souk I have visited before (some like souk waqif in Doha are not authentic) and I can see why regular Egyptians are proud of it.
In addition to shops, there are several coffeehouses, restaurants, and street food vendors distributed throughout the market. The coffeeshops are generally small and quite traditional, serving gahwa (Arabic coffee) and usually offering shisha.